I read a quote today about God's love being strong and in one moment the phrase struck me as both beautiful and sorely lacking.
It is beautiful because the Lord is my strength and His strength is unbound and limitless. He is my protector who upholds me, His love washes away all my tears, it sustains me and keeps me going. Yet it is lacking because 'strong' does not begin to encompass the kind of love my Savior has for me! What kind of love would willingly give Himself for me? What kind of love would go to the grave and back? It is this kind of love that my Savior has for me: an undying, self-sacrificing, endlessly giving, fiercely protective kind of love. How paltry, in comparison, is love as described by this world? And how little is my own love given back to Him!
To love like Jesus is to love without reserve, to love without hesitation, to love through the cost. To love like Christ is a costly kind of love because it requires all of me, not just a part of me when it is convenient. It requires everything even when it is the most difficult - for that is how Christ loves. Yes, His love is strong. But it is so much more than 'strong.' It is passionate, deep, unending, unyielding, and eternal. It overcomes the strongest hatred, the bitterest grudge, and the deepest doubt experienced by the human soul.
What IS radical faith? Absolute. Complete. Total obedience. Walking when the way seems unclear. Stepping off the ledge of certainty into the unknown only because you know the Lord has instructed you to do so. Following blindly, willingly, unhaltingly. Plunging fully forward into the will of God no matter how crazy it might seem. THAT is radical faith.
When we think about radical faith I think often we picture Hebrews 11 - and rightly so! The "Hall of Faith" records stories about men and women of God who lived with reckless abandon, willing to give up their very lives and every detail of them to the will of God. We look at them in awe and wonder how they did it. We think we could never get there. But I'm telling you, we can!
The men and women mentioned were men and women - flesh, bone, and sinful. There was a catch, however. They were superhuman. Kidding! They were just like us. So how did they do it? By owning a radical, abandoned, wholehearted faith in the One we serve. By putting into obedience every part of their lives to God's will on a daily basis. This kind of radical faith does not come all at once but slowly and surely over time. It comes by training ourselves in repeated obedience so that when He says 'walk' and the path seems unclear we will start moving anyway. So that when He says 'run' we will not calculate the distance necessary to cross the finish line before we take off. So that when He says 'follow' we will unhesitatingly, unhaltingly, unswervingly walk after the Lord no matter the situation He asks us to follow Him in.
Society and culture tells us that it is okay to throw a pity party when things don't go well. Mainstream movies and TV spoon feed the lie that all women should grab a carton of ice cream and eat half the tub while watching a cheesy romance flick when their heart is hurting. Women are commonly shown to have group pity parties when life "goes wrong." Men are told to fill the ache with work, toys, extra relationships, and activities. This is how our culture tells us to deal with hurts and heartaches. It preaches that you can eat or perform your way out of the sin-induced ache that will inevitably creep inside your heart and life. But it's all a lie.
It doesn't matter who you are, where you are, or what kind of life you have. Even if you have your ideal circumstances, be it a life of travel overseas or two kids, a husband, and white picket fence, every single person on this planet will, at one time or another, experience the ache inside which loudly declares this is not final, this is not the point, and this is not our home. The ache might come when you're with everyone you know and love and you suddenly feel alone for some reason. It might come as you dwell on the fact that you are the 2% of this world's population and that the majority of this planet is hurting, suffering, dwelling in poverty, and facing persecution. It will inevitably come if you start dwelling on all you "don't have" and allow the demon of discontent to worm its way inside your heart and life.
The feeling and sense of discontent is a direct result of the fall. It tells us that we are not complete, we are not whole, and we are not fully satisfied. Wrongly used, this sense of discontentment can burry and eat alive a person who otherwise has a fantastic and blessed life. If used correctly, however, this sense of not belonging, not being fulfilled, and not being satisfied in the here and now can be used to catapult us on toward a relationship with Christ, the depths of which we have only begun to explore. It can be used as a diving board to launch us into the deep end of the love of Christ, the grace of Christ, and the reality that only in Christ are we made whole, complete, and satisfied. When used as a means to rightly direct our hearts and minds, the ache of discontentment can actually bring us joy in Christ. For when we focus on Him and all He is, when we consider how much we have been given by and in Him, it renders invalid our default toward pity.
We are twelve days into the new year. Just a few days ago now, everyone was talking resolutions, renewed focus, and refreshed outlook. One of the suggestions I heard go around was the idea of choosing a specific word to make "yours" for the year. In many ways I think this is a great idea. It's simple, concise, and can be an instant reminder to keep focused on something the Lord desires you to work on. Just fifteen minutes after the turn of the new year, inspired by something a friend said to me, I decided to do this and I had my word.
In the midst of wishing people a happy new year, a friend and I were conversing about the need to live for Christ ever more as the days go by and the need to encourage those around us to do the same. It was during this discussion at 12:15am that my friend remarked, "Let's make sure others see Christ undeniably in us." I wholeheartedly agreed and that was it, 'undeniable' became my word for this year.
It's such a perfect word that contains so much meaning. We, those who are following Christ and living for Him, should be doing so in a way that is absolutely undeniable to those around us. 'Undeniably' should be the response when people wonder if we follow Jesus. 'Undeniably' should be the answer when people ask if we love the Lord. 'Undeniably' should be the way we live for the Lord and cling to His Word, seek His will, and obey His commands. Undeniably - without any doubt or question whatsoever.
There should be no aspect of this life that is not touched by Christ. Our desires, motivations, actions, thoughts, and the sum total of our purpose should be totally Christ-centered, Christ-focused, and undeniably dedicated to Him. It doesn't matter who we are, what job we hold, whether we are single, married, have five kids or one, our lives belong to Christ. As such, we should live in a way that is undeniably dedicated to Him. That is my focus for this New Year. What is yours?
This is officially the first day of the brand new year. Everyone has reflected on the past 365 days, many have set resolutions for the upcoming 365, some are thankful to see the year leave, most are excited to usher in the new. The new year can be an exciting time of fresh starts and things to look forward to but it can also be a difficult time when some are struggling to fight the battle for contentment, hope, and peace.
Despite the many posts, updates, and one-liners about excitement for the new year I see all across the world of social media, there is one type of status update that remains lacking - posts from those who are struggling. 'Well, of course' you say. 'Because who posts a status update that says, "Tonight as I counted down to the New Year my heart ached and I felt lonely?" or "I'm really struggling financially this new year?" Who is going to like that?' But I wonder how many might have written something along those lines if they were brave enough to do so. It doesn't matter where you are or what time of the year it may be. The struggle and fight for contentment, to claim and live out what we know to be true in the Christian life, is real and ongoing. But let me encourage you. It is worth fighting for!
Finances will fluctuate. New Years resolutions may or may not be kept. People will come and go in our lives. Circumstances will change, jobs may become non-existent, financial status could shift drastically. The exciting Disneyland plans or vacation ideas to which you look forward for this new year may never materialize. Such are a few of the many areas in which we fight for contentment. And while all of that sounds rather bleak, I want to encourage you with something I know without a shadow of doubt will happen for the good! This time next year, Christ will still be with you. He will never leave; He will not be outsourced, changed, or made non-existent in your life. So when you find yourself in a time of trial or difficulty, when you find your heart wanting what God has not ordained, seek His face and cling to Him all the more. Because He is the only one who will be there when all else is not.
I've noticed something about Christmas this year. There are a lot of people who are hurting through it. 'Joy to the World' gets belted out from radios, choirs, joyous individuals, and entire churches but as I look around, I notice something other than carefree enjoyment of carols, lights, and tinsel. I see pain and hurt in people's eyes. Perhaps it's because of the recent and growing occurrences of terror and hate that destroy lives. Perhaps it's because we are now so connected to every corner of the globe, we have come to actually realize that 99% of the world will wake up with no Christmas or running water or adequate shelter. Perhaps it is just because the more life I live, the more I see the hurt that inevitably comes with it.
Christmas is a time of joy. From the time we are children we are geared toward Christmas being a happy, jolly time of goodwill and peace on earth. Even that great song, I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day which at first decries the reality of there being any peace on earth eventually declares that yes, right WILL prevail. So what happens when that peace gets interrupted or hurt invades and pain, for the moment, prevails instead of joy? What do we do when it's hard to sing those familiar Christmas carols or wish someone a merry Christmas?
Cling. To. Christ. I think this is becoming my answer for everything these days. Just as in Sunday School where you learn that the answer is always "Jesus," so too, in life the answer is always this - cling to Christ. It is from Christ that we derive our hope and joy and peace and satisfaction and contentment and love. It is in Christ that we prevail through peace-destroying pain and walk on. It is in Christ that we live with pain and still weep tears of joy at the realization of just how good He is. It is in Christ that we must truly live and move and have our being. All else will fade or fail or break just as sure as the presents under the tree will tarnish and fade.
So this Christmas, whether you are in rapturous joy or walking your way through pain which life so often brings, take a few moments to pour out your heart to the One who makes a way for peace through pain and joy through trials. Take a moment and bow before that manger and let Him fill you with hope eternal. For hope eternal is why we celebrate Christmas at all.
Life is absolutely full of opportunities to give grace to others, isn't it? To overlook faults and failures, to extend grace when shoved aside or actively sinned against? To cover up sin in love and look through the lens of Christ's atoning blood instead of our oft self-righteous me-first attitude that demands the best and highest in the universe's treatment of ourselves as God's gift to mankind.
Though we may not say it quite like that, is not this the attitude which surfaces from our hearts whenever someone cuts us off on the freeway or manages to sneak into line in front of us in the overcrowded press at Walmart? What if a fellow Christian does something or says something that's offensive, different, or certainly not what we would do? Is our first reaction to say to ourselves, 'Christ is transforming them just as He is doing with me' and extend grace? Or is our reaction to mentally log away in our book of self-righteousness the things they did or said which were "incorrect?"
Oh were we to extend grace to those around us - what a difference it would make! Were we to mentally put ourselves on the back-burner of life and start preferring others before ourselves, what a change we would see! We all need grace and we have already received so much of it. We have been given the grace of Jesus Christ on the cross! How can we dare do any less than extend to others what Christ has so freely and abundantly given to us? Let us show forth His love and pour forth His grace today.
Talking with a friend a while back, a comment was made that "Life is hard but God is good and therein lies the battle."
Oh, is this not true? God IS good. We know that. We cling to it. We rely on it and place our hope in the fact. We know, in our heart of hearts and with every fiber of our being, that there is no mistaking it. God. Is. Good. But then, enter stage left: life. The hard, messy, difficult, tear-inducing, maddening stuff. Lost jobs and lost children, money problems and hospital visits, war and destruction, banished hopes and demolished dreams. Life.
Life is hard. But God is good. The two facts are sometimes seemingly irreconcilable. Because how can God be good in the midst of such heartache, trial, and difficulty? How can God be good when life gets hard? How is He good when we find the things we hold dearest or long for the most extinguished or left unanswered? Simply this: He is good because He is there.
In the midst of our hardest situations, in the middle of lost hopes and difficulties, He is there. He will never leave us or see us lost, but will be with us every single minute and each step of the way. He creates beauty out of the ashes in which we sometimes find ourselves sitting. He enables us to rise and continue on. If that weren't enough, He is our refuge and shelter, the strong tower into which we can run for safety. He is perfect, holy, and has a plan for each of His children. He has given us full and complete access to the throne of grace which we can boldly approach and from which He will hear our cries. He loves us with love that cannot be fathomed and He is trustworthy.
So yes, life is hard. But God is good "and therein lies the battle." Fight to hold onto Him in your time of need, dear friends. He will see you through!
For the last week or so, I've been on vacation with my family. It's been a wonderful time of laughter, staying up late, talking, reading, exploring, and thoroughly enjoying each other. I am so blessed to have this sweet time. I know many cannot pick up and leave their lives for a couple weeks to unplug from the world and enjoy their God-given families.
There is something about unplugging for a while. Getting rest. Stopping the frantic pace of life and hitting the pause button. It provides much needed rest. It bonds us as a family. It physically restores. And in many, many ways, vacation does something unexpected. It makes me long to "begin again." Begin working again, begin getting back to my home church again, begin the regular everyday life in which I am privileged to live and dwell again. It makes me long to see God's awesome, powerful, redemptive hand at work in the every day normal again.
As much as I absolutely love and enjoy vacation, I think perhaps the most incredible thing to do on a daily basis is just live - live the "normal" life God has given us and watch as He redeems it. Watch as He redeems the drunken man's life from the gutter. Watch as He redeems the sinner's sorrowful soul and replaces shame with glorifying joy and peace. Watch as He saves the dying child and the drug abuser. Watch as He reaches down into commonplace, normal, often soul-achingly empty lives and fills them to the brim, full and overflowing with His redemptive power and joy. Watch as He fills lives with peace and soul-satisfying contentment in Him and His work. Watch as He redeems. Because He redeems, dear reader, oh how He redeems!
Yes, I have thoroughly enjoyed vacation. But I am looking forward to getting back to life, ministry, and beginning again to testify of the sweet work of Jesus in our common, ordinary, every day lives!
For God's love is literally infinite. It is the shoreless sea we are destined to swim in, surf in, and grow in forever. - Peter Kreeft
That. Is. Amazing. The shoreless sea of God's love, beautiful and infinite. He loves us with love unfeigned, unbound, unfettered and free. His love cannot be surpassed by anyone nor should our love for Him be surpassed by our love for anything. He is to be our chief desire, sole love, and greatest affection.
To be like Him should be our highest goal alongside that of pleasing Him. To walk well and worthy ought be our constant focus. May He cause these things to be accomplished in us that we might, indeed, walk well and worthy before Him!
Let us revel in the shoreless sea of His love, today!